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Photo by Heidrun Löhr


In my review of Pacitti’s last offer CIVIL, as the opening performance in this festival of LIVEWORKS by the Performance Space at Carriageworks, I was being as “civil” as possible. I was, gently, in retrospect, being as politic as possible and therefore relatively generous about what I perceived as essentially a very bland and experientially dull and disappointing work.

It was as the creator warned us in his program notes twelve years old. I gave it a respect for it had a sense of a past time and “history” and felt that it may serve as an introduction to the more contemporary developments of this artist and company with the promise of a collaboration with Australian artists on FINALE, the last offer of this two week season of works.

To quote some of the program notes:

“For FINALE Pacitti Company join forces with the Swiss cult electronica band Velma. Abstracting the 1867 Emile Zola novel THERESE RAQUIN, FINALE dispenses with narrative structure and character in order to prioritise the themes of the book – deception, lust, spite and domination. This is theatre full of sexual obsessions and jealous distractions played out against the hypnotic repetitions of Velma’s minimalist sound work. Pacitti revel in the dirt of Zola’s text and, true to form, FINALE is compelling and explicit, uncompromising and cruel.”


Further on…

“…for FINALE at Carriageworks, Pacitti Company has remade this award-winning work with collaborators selected by Performance Space. This new composite cast has spent two weeks undertaking the workshop process devised by Pacitti Company in order to present three large scale performances of FINALE as part of LIVEWORKS.”

Let me just examine some of these notes.

    1. It is true that this was the Pacitti Company and Velma collaborating. (However the soundtrack was so minimal for me that I do not remember the contribution to my experience. Subtle. (There was no live band so I imagine it was a Recording.)
    2. Whether it was the Emile Zola novel or not (Therese Raquin), it was only apparent as the performers actually quoted a little from it during the performance. “The prioritised themes of the book – deception, lust, spite and domination” could of course be almost any other novel as well. ANNA KARENINA, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, MADAME BOVARY, IN THE LINE OF BEAUTY, even, any of the HARRY POTTER novels. And since the “narrative structure and characters” have been dispensed with what did it matter? Was it some simple validation of FINALE by giving it a literary heritage?
    3. “Pacitti revel in the dirt of Zola’s text”, if only!!! In a set design and white fluorescent lighting that looked and felt like the catwalk of the David Jones Store Fashion Showings, it had a feel of anything but dirt.Except to keep the lawn alive for the picnic scenes. (The space itself with all of its recent trendy renovation (with its Heritage features apparent) dominated in such a contemporary way that one felt it could be a fashionable warehouse space that any of the uber rich might like to move into.) The activities of the performers, beginning with gloriously clean and paraded naked male bodies, not a sign of living: neither shit nor piss nor vomit traces or what else that might pass for dirt, just simply bourgeois artists once again parading nakedly before us. What, to shock us or for us to observe their vulnerabilities? (Cliché.) Down to a man chewing metal tacks, peeing into a glass and sticking his penis into it or laying on a bed of thorns, or a woman carrying a first aid kit and then stripping and then bandaging and covering herself in fake blood and flailing about like a loose stringed puppet or sticking your arm in a glass vase, or dribbling milk out of your mouth in front of a strong fan and letting it blow in a stream in the wind or strutting naked with your genitalia plastered up between your legs blindfolded with a black laced fold tethered on a long black restraint to a black laced woman embroidering a black laced cloth or to walk about with a gutted fish beautifully laid out with its innards displayed on a silver tray, and a flare ignited, in safety, behind an opened fire door, twice, to book end this tame set of “sexual obsessions and jealous distractions.” To revel in the dirt!!! For someone to write that this is “compelling, and explicit, uncompromising and cruel.” is not truth telling. NO. Boring, obvious, diluted and tame was more like it. Who wrote this guff? There is nothing more tempting to write your own critique but it is quite something else to do it at those levels. It is quite tempting to believe your own ambitions but you should really look at what you are actually showing.

Just what workshopping actually went on with this cast of Australian guest artists? They seemed to be doing something they normally do, within the fairly declared stratum of creative dictate of the original conceivers of FINALE; Robert Pacitti, Sheila Ghelani, and Richard Eton. Just how much creative input did they have in this ridiculously short rehearsal time of two weeks that was probably distracted with the preparation of another piece the week before? Add in the technical rehearsal times etc and you have little creative workshop time, it seems to me. This felt like a regurgitation of a five year old exercise that simply “colonised” these artists gifts for Pacitti’s own pre-prepared scenario. In the actual director’s notes Mr Pacitti says “My decision to remake FINALE with local artists wherever the work is shown, was borne out of a sense of urgency tinged at the edges with frustration at the ways in which process driven projects are often toured as nothing more than ‘visiting product'”. This performance seemed to me nothing more than “visiting product” that just happened to utilise the local artists to explicate an old concept/play. It looked like tokenism and felt like exploitation. A more cynical observation would be to say it is a very cheap way to do the work. Three performers and a prepared backing tape and design and shape to tour the world instead of what would possibly be an impossibly expensive commitment of touring a company of fifteen performers plus artistic creatives, costumes and set. This work that originated in the UK is simply, politically, Blair Bland demonstrating the economic/politic of an era of Economic Rationalism. (Good on you if you can get away with it, I say.) But, please, the notes are unnecessary explanation for a work that I felt I have seen many times before. It feels like persiflage. A condescension to my experience of this kind of performance art.

This was a performance that was deeply, deeply unsatisfactory on almost all levels. The instance of Mr Pacitti and Mr Eton brilliantly committed to a meaningful moving of the two tables into a walkway for Ms Ghelani so that she could delicately weave her way through a similarly synchronised laying out of an obstacle of bricks in a vertical pattern, was almost hilarious in its pomposity of “this is an important moment”, statement “Watch closely!!” It was performed with an admirable portentousness that promised potency but delivered pretension. All I could summon was an image of one of those fifties sci-fi movies where a woman has been zapped by a nuclear accident to giant amazonian size and is threading her way through the sky scrappers of a massive city or of Godzilla in the recent Hollywood epic wreaking havoc on the sky scrappers of New York. This could not have been meant to be meaningful except in a comic way in the year 2008. Could it? Let alone the expression of “A desire to be truly radical” In my dictionary: RADICAL “:an advocate of political or social reform”!!!!

The token ritual of the washing of one of my hands was the final ridiculousness of FINALE. “Why the left hand?” someone asked . “No, it depended whether you went out the left or right hand side.” OH!!!! We tried to read meaning into every offer. No narrative, no character it must be meaningful.

Out in the foyer fellow members of the audience attempted to articulate their experience. It was polite. It was hesitant.

A: “I felt detached”

B: “Ah, that is the Aesthetic Distance that the post-modernists talk about.”

C: “Oh,you mean like the Brechtian sense of alienation?”

A: “What’s that ?”

B : “Haven’t you heard of Adorno either?”

This conversation quickly trailed off to memories of really exciting performance art experiences we have had in Sydney to measure this work against.

A: “Remember the Catalan company LA FURA DELS BAUS and their offering of SUZ/O/SUZ IN 1989?” (Now there was excitement and a radical experience on all levels: intellectually, physically and emotionally, politically. Even its less exciting rendition of MACBETH a couple of years later left this for dead.)

C: “The last really exciting piece of large scale performance art I saw was at the Performance Space too. It was THE MUSEUM OF FETISHIZED IDENTITIES by Guillermo Gomez-Pena and his company called ‘Pocha Nostra’”

A: “They used local artists too. Much more successfully I felt.”

B: “Ah well, at least we can say we saw it.”

They then said goodnight to each other and promised to meet up soon at the next Bad Dog Party. This sadly was the crushing affect of this disappointment of an audience that had arrived genuinely enthused and excited. In the program notes for CIVIL, Mr Pacitti suggested that it was not a museum piece. My experience of CIVIL was Museum. Unfortunately this is what FINALE felt like to me as well. Museum theatre, maybe the Dead Theatre that Peter Brook talks about in THE EMPTY SPACE. For this Emperor had no clothes on, the space was truly empty and my time spent with this company has been irretrievably lost.